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Parent Sues Rutgers, Demanding Tuition Refund Due To Coronavirus

Online classes and Zoom sessions are not what the parents purchased when they paid their daughter’s spring 2020 tuition, the suit argues.

By Carly Baldwin, Patch Staff 
May 21, 2020 4:14 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2020 8:58 am ET
Rutgers received an estimated $54.16 million from the federal government through the CARES Act.
Rutgers received an estimated $54.16 million from the federal government through the CARES Act. (Shutterstock)

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — An anonymous parent of a Rutgers University student filed a class-action lawsuit against the school this week, seeking a partial tuition refund in light of the school’s campus closure due to COVID-19.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in superior court in Middlesex County. This week, a student filed a similar lawsuit against Kean University, saying online classes were not what she paid for.

When the pandemic first began, Rutgers gave students pro-rated refunds for housing, dining and parking charges beginning on March 23 and lasting through May 16, said Rutgers spokeswoman Dory Devlin. (May 16 is the required move-out date at the university.)

However, what this parent is seeking is not a refund for campus meals and housing: They would like a tuition refund, arguing that — because all her classes were virtual instead of in-person — their daughter received a radically different learning experience than what they paid for.

“While plaintiff’s daughter could have obtained her degree online, their daughter specifically selected an in-person, in-class experience,” the lawsuit argues.

“The shift to online instruction affected the depth,” read the suit. “Often links sent by professors were not compatible with her computer and she missed opportunities to view videos and listen to audio lectures that were necessary for her learning. Instead, she was only able to review the bullet-point lecture slides and missed a lot of necessary information from the lectures.”

The suit was filed by law firm Hagens Berman, which has also brought similar lawsuits against Boston University, Brown, Duke, Emory, George Washington University, USC, Vanderbilt and Washington University in St. Louis.

“What Rutgers is offering is not what students or parents paid for,” Berman said.

Specific course fees, where appropriate, were refunded on a course-by-course basis, said Rutgers spokeswoman Devlin.

But no university in America, including Rutgers, has given refunds based on the differences between in-class and online learning due to the coronavirus shutdown.

The plaintiff is listed as by John Doe. U.S. law allows civil suits to be filed anonymously or under a pseudonym in certain cases to “protect a person (in this case the Rutgers student) from harassment, injury, ridicule or personal embarrassment.”

The lawsuit is class-action, meaning that anyone can join the suit.

“We understand that universities have been put under unforeseen circumstances and had to act quickly in the face of the pandemic,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. “But we also believe that is no excuse to ignore the rights of students paying for access to campus amenities, in-person education and all the other benefits commonly afforded to them in a typical semester.”

According to the lawsuit, Rutgers had a record-breaking fundraising year with more than 48,500 donors contributing $250.9 million. Recently, Rutgers received an estimated $54.16 million from the federal government as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Poll: Minority and low-income parents most worried about their students’ success

Lorraine Longhi, Arizona RepublicPublished 7:33 p.m. MT May 20, 2020 | Updated 7:51 a.m. MT May 21, 2020

About four in 10 Arizona parents believe the state’s management of K-12 education was good or excellent amid the coronavirus health pandemic, according to a new ASU Morrison Institute-Arizona Republic poll.

K-12 school administration received the highest positive rating of any other government entity listed, including federal, state, local and tribal.

The online survey was conducted in late April and early May. Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman ordered schools closed on March 15 to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

District, charter and private schools quickly converted to remote learning. Some provided students with printouts, while others moved to virtual lessons and emailed work. 

Impact on low-income students

The poll highlights a divide between lower-income and higher-income families when it comes to accessing the necessary technology for online learning.

Parents with children from low-income families polled were less likely to say that their children have the necessary technology for online learning.

Low-income families were also less likely to say that their children are actively engaged in online learning.

In contrast, parents of children from higher-income brackets were more concerned that their child will fall behind in school and that COVID-19 will compromise the likelihood their child will graduate high school.

Richie Taylor, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, said that the findings came as no surprise. He said low-income families and the schools that serve them are at more of a disadvantage when it comes to accessing technology and resources that make it easier to pivot to online learning.

“That’s why it’s so critical to provide support and resources to fill those gaps we know exist,” he said.

During the past two months, some schools got creative to help their students. A Tucson district parked buses with WiFi around the city so students could access assignments. Others reached out to nonprofits to help purchase additional laptops for students. 

State leaders asked businesses to donate hotspots and laptops to help students.

As schools tentatively prepare to reopen in the fall, Taylor said they will depend heavily on money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to fill in some of the educational gaps.

The CARES Act will allocate approximately $13.2 billion in emergency relief funds to state governments to support K-12 students whose educations have been disrupted by the coronavirus. 

“CARES Act funding ishugely important to mitigate some of the challenge we faced,” Taylor said. “We want to be able to provide for the needs of families and students.”Get the Law & Order newsletter in your inbox.

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Different ages, neighborhoods, ethnicity

The online Morrison-Republic poll was conducted from April 24 through May 7. It included 813 Arizona residents census balanced by age, gender, ethnicity, and location.

Of those, 287 were parents with at least one child living at home. The margin of error was plus or minus 6 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.

At the time of the survey, 16% of respondents indicated they would feel comfortable sending their kids back to school immediately following the lifting of restrictions.

Among the general population of parents polled:

  • 75% said their children had the necessary technology to engage in online learning.
  • 67% said their children were actively engaged in learning.
  • 57% were satisfied with the educational opportunities being offered.
  • 53% were worried that children would fall behind.
  • 43% were concerned that COVID-19 would impact their child’s ability to graduate.

Parents of older students expressed less confidence that their children were staying engaged in online learning than those of younger students.

Of the parents with at least one child in elementary school, 69% said they agreed that their children were engaged, compared to 55% of parents polled with a child in high school.

The opposite was true when parents were asked whether they were worried their child might fall behind in school.

Among parents with children in elementary school, 58%worried that their child would fall behind, compared to 46% of parents polled with a child in high school.

Black parents polled were more concerned about their children falling behind than white or Hispanic parents. Of those polled, 67% of black parents said they were worried, compared to 44% of white parents and 63% of Hispanic parents. 

Hispanic parents were the most concerned about whether COVID-19 would decrease their child’s likelihood of graduating high school. Of those polled, 49% of Hispanic parents said they were concerned, compared to 38% of black parents and 28% of white parents.

Parents who did not have a high school degree reported less concern about students falling behind as a result of the stay-at-home order when compared to parents with some college or a higher degree.

A parent’s neighborhood also impacted how individuals polled responded.

While 61% of parents who lived in an urban neighborhood indicated they were satisfied with the educational opportunities being offered by their school, only 47% of parents in suburban neighborhoods were satisfied.

Local woman walks tightrope as single parent, teacher and student

Shekeya McCallister (foreground) works alongside her 11-year-old daughter Annya. (Photo by Christy Soto)

By Christy Soto | Updated: Wed 2:18 PM, May 13, 2020

KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) Shekeya McCallister of Killeen who’s stranded at home amid the COVID-19 outbreak with her Annya, 11, is juggling roles as a single parent, a teacher and a student as she works to complete her master’s degree.

“You just don’t know what the next day holds in this,” McCallister said.

McCallister lost her job on Feb. 23 and has been surviving on savings ever since.

“I can live off my savings for about six months but after that, then what?” she said.

“You have to know how to save your money, be prepared for the worse,” McCallister said.

And balancing a tight budget isn’t the only challenge.

She’s also having to scramble to help Annya, a sixth grader at Roy J. Smith Middle School in Killeen, keep up with her schoolwork.

“It’s been difficult, I had to learn her learning style, and all her lesson material,” McCallister said.

Math has been their biggest challenge.

“The whole realm of math has changed so much, so I’ve had to spend time learning how they do things now.”

And on top of mastering her daughter’s coursework, McCallister also has her own as she finishes up a master’s program and begins work on a doctorate.

So every day, they sit side by side and get to work.

McCallister says her daughter misses school and is ready to go back, but they both have appreciated the time they’ve had together.

“We used to not spend a lot of time together because it was school, homework, and then bed, but now we have time to bond,” McCallister said.

She encourages parents to stay strong during this time and look for the positives.

“Just try to stay strong for our kids and let them know that this will be over soon and we are here to support them, who’s going to be strong for them, we have to,” McCallister said.

We would love to hear from you. Have a story, tip or recipe you would like to share with our readers? Feel free to email it to throughlovewelearn@gmail.com.

What to Do When a Parent Is Denied a PLUS Loan

There are several options when a student’s parents are denied a federal Parent PLUS loan.

By Meghan Lustig, ContributorMay 13, 2020, at 9:40 a.m.

Elevated view from a young couple checking their home finances at home.
The PLUS loan requires an application to verify that the borrower – the parent – has no adverse credit history. (Getty Image)

WITH COLLEGE TUITION rising each year, finding the funds to cover the cost can be a challenge for many families. Even with savings and financial aid like scholarships, grants and federal student loans, students and their parents are sometimes faced with a gap between college costs and available resources.

In these cases, colleges may offer parents a federal Parent PLUS loan. This is a loan made to the parent of a qualifying student. The terms and borrower benefits differ from the federal direct loan, which is offered to students and has a lower interest rate and more flexible repayment options.

Another difference between the PLUS loan and the direct loan is that the PLUS loan requires an application to verify that the borrower – the parent – has no adverse credit history. An applicant can be disqualified and denied a PLUS loan for credit problems like recent bankruptcies, large debts more than 90 days delinquent, a recent wage garnishment or a tax lien.[ 

Being denied a PLUS loan does not mean you are out of options. There are other steps that families can consider, but be sure to weigh the pros and cons of each to make the right decision for your situation. Here are four options that families can consider after a Parent PLUS loan denial:

  • Borrow additional unsubsidized loans.
  • File an appeal.
  • Consider alternatives to taking on additional debt.
  • Enlist an endorser or co-signer.

Borrow Additional Unsubsidized Loans

When the parent of a dependent undergraduate student is denied a PLUS loan, the borrowing limit is increased for that student. He or she will be able to borrow more unsubsidized student loans up to the limit that is set for independent students. The annual limit varies by year in school, but is between $4,000 and $5,000 more than the amount that can be borrowed by dependent students.[ 

Federal student loans are the best borrowing option because they have a lower interest rate and better repayment terms. However, be sure to pay attention to the overall amount of debt that a student is taking on and consider whether it will be manageable upon graduation.

File an Appeal

If there are extenuating circumstances that contributed to the Parent PLUS loan denial or your situation has changed, your parent can file an appeal and try to have your application reconsidered. For example, you may be able to appeal if your parent is on track to address an overdue debt and can show successful repayment.

Contact your school’s financial aid office to start the process and submit a form. Your parent may be asked for information from a bank, creditors or other sources to support the claim.

Consider Alternatives to Taking on Additional Debt

For parents, taking on debt to help a child attend college can have a big impact on short-term and long-term finances. Before seeking additional debt options, consider whether there are ways to reduce the overall cost of college.

For example, to save money, consider enrolling in a local community college or a public university with lower tuition for the first year or two and then transferring to the institution of your choice to finish your degree.

You can also ask about whether your school offers a tuition installment or tuition payment plan, which can split tuition into monthly or per-semester payments. While this is technically a form of credit and there may be associated fees, most plans are interest-free. If you can afford the monthly payments, this would save you a lot of money on interest you would pay on a loan.

Finally, if you haven’t already, speak to a high school guidance counselor about private scholarship options. Scholarships are free money that you don’t have to pay back – and there are likely far more available than you think. Even small dollar amounts can help pay for expenses like books.

Enlist an Endorser or Co-signer

Parents can try to enlist a co-signer, called an endorser, on the PLUS loan. The endorser agrees to take responsibility for the loan if the borrower fails to repay, and the loan will show up on the endorser’s credit report as his or her own debt. It can improve the chances of getting the loan because the endorser’s credit is considered as part of the application, but it’s also a significant financial arrangement with another individual that should not be entered into lightly.

Another option is to enlist a co-signer to help the student take out a private student loan. In this case, the debt would be the responsibility of the student and the co-signer, leaving the parent out of the loan. This might be a better option for a parent who is already struggling to manage a lot of debt. Be sure to compare interest rates and terms to determine the best option.

Consider borrowing from a nonprofit or state-based organization, because these lenders follow a set of strong consumer protections and offer loan options with fixed interest rates and low or no origination fees. You can find nonprofit loan options in your specific state at ForYouNotForProfit.org.

We would love to hear from you, have a story, tip or recipe you would like to share with our readers? Feel free to email it to throughlovewelearn@gmail.com.

Teaching Special Ed during COVID19

By Paula Marie Naranjo | April 14,2020 | Edited on May 2,2020

 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted by the 101st United States Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on October 30, 1990. It was first introduced in the Senate as S.1824 by Senator Tom Harkin (D.IA) on October 31, 1989. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes appropriate public education eligible to children with disabilities free throughout the nation and ensures special education services to all who qualify. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 6,964,424 children with special needs were served in the 2017-2018 school year. Although every year the enrollment rate continues to rise, the sad truth is that many children still slip through the cracks. 

  There are so many obstacles educators in general must overcome during this day and age. From social media to no support from parents these educators are underpaid and overworked. I had the privilege finding out first hand some of the work it takes to educate. I have one general ed and two special ed students that I must get help guiding them through their curriculum. Even with modified work it’s a feat I am sadly struggling with. But if you can imagine your child’s teacher modifying all the work to fit this new teaching model for 10-20 students. Special education is an uphill battle all by itself, but throw in COVID 19 lockdown and you very well may have a mountain to climb. A few teachers from San antonio schools took the time to answer my questions on teaching through COVID19. 

woman in black long sleeve shirt using laptop computer

How has this new teaching model been working for the students?

Melissa  “It’s working as well as can be expected, but that’s all because of parent communication. Having great parent communication makes any type of education easier.”

Irma Valdez-Cevallos “The Majority of my students are struggling with the virtual model.”

JC “It has been a struggle.  I work with the high needs population (ALE/Lifeskills) so it has been rather difficult for my students and their families.  We, the SpEd staff, are trying to provide resources and tools to best fit the needs for our students and their families, but some accommodations/modifications/behavior needs are difficult for us to find virtual/digital ways to help.”

The new teaching model ( virtual classroom) for general education seems to be working well for most students and teachers. Special education is one of the exceptions to the rule. Most teachers spend long summer months preparing how they can modify the work and use the classroom and staff as tools to help the child. Unfortunately, with the child being at home they will lack the support, guidance and emotional structure the teacher and paraprofessional offer.

What are some of the challenges your students are facing?

Melissa  “Motivation or anxiety- but that’s all students, sped or non-sped. It’s like starting high school all over again. It’s new/different and scary.”

Irma Valdez-Cevallos  “Students are facing difficulties due to less one to one instruction and getting easily frustrated due to the lack of support.”

JC  “Using technology alone can be a struggle for some of my students.  Other students need constant support to stay focused on tasks.  Other students need frequent breaks and guidance to come back to work.  Parents are busy and stressed with other activities, so this can be a difficult situation.”

Many parents I spoke to said that they are noticing that the child is having a hard time separating home and school time while being at home. Most children with special needs have lots of tools such as communication devices, interactive schedules, and other therapy strategies in place by a professional to support them in school. Most parents don’t have the training or resources to provide the same environment that would benefit the child. 

What methods have you used that work for your students?

Melissa  “Parent communication and positive motivation!”

Irma Valdez-Cevallos “Calling them a few times a week, emailing them, adding positive comments , reducing work.” 

JC “Choice boards on different levels.  Short video conferences with students to say hello.  Sending home behavior charts for parents to use and walking them through step by step how to use them (ex: student answers 1 question, they get 1 star, after 4 stars they get a break).”

Most teachers have 1-20 years of experience that I’ve spoken to and they see that they must continue to modify and reduce the amount of work they are providing the student. This can be good in the sense that the child doesn’t lose confidence in themselves if they can’t complete the work. On the other hand it delays their progress and most teachers are noticing the children regressing. 

black iphone 5 on red textile

How are you coping with this new teaching model?

Melissa  “Teaching is about adaptability. If you can’t adapt, you probably shouldn’t be teaching. That sounds harsh, but every group of kids is different. You can’t expect next year’s group to be like your group from three years ago.”

Irma Valdez-Cevallos  “I’m overwhelmed with the amount of work that goes into one lesson using different platforms and still being accountable with calling parents, holding ARDS , joining in on weekly department and faculty meetings, tutorial group meetings with students, grading, creating lessons, updating IEP progress reports, filling contact logs for both parents and students and learning new virtual learning platforms.”

JC “I have a master’s degree in technology so the curriculum part isn’t difficult.  I miss my students though.”

Most teachers concur with Irma Valdez-Cevallos in feeling overwhelmed as well as apprehensive in the fact that their students may be left way behind in the learning curve. Every teacher i spoke to expressed a feeling of sadness in missing their students. 

Has it increased your workload and can you give me examples?

Melissa  “The workload is the same for SPED- it’s just processed differently. Instead of leaving the classroom for small group help, we’re setting up an alternate virtual classroom. Instead of stickers and physical goodies like pencils, I’m awarding ClassDojo points and positive parent text messages.”

Irma Valdez-Cevallos  “I’m spending 8- 9 hours on the computer!”

JC  “In some areas yes.  In other areas no.  For instance I am not teaching my kids 7 hours a day, however, I am documenting more and sending out more information than prior.  I am creating digital content that I haven’t in the past – so that has been a challenge.”

Creativity is what comes to mind when teachers explain to me how they are modifying the curriculum. Many are building apps, computer programs and repurposing classroom tools to think outside the box and fill a need for new ways of teaching.

photography of school room

How will this work factor into the students final grade?

Melissa “If you have high expectations for any student, they will rise to the occasion. People forget that not all SPED is students with intellectual disabilities. Some students have extremely high IQs but behavior,l or emotional difficulties. Autistic children are on a spectrum, so the IQ varies by subject for some lower functioning students. Think Rain Man!”

Irma Valdez-Cevallos  “I have modified and customized what each student will turn in so they will pass based on the work they submit.”  

JC  “I honestly am not sure about this and I do not like to speculate.  However if you email me later, I am sure I will have a clear answer once my administration sets these guidelines”

With a little over 6 weeks left in the school year, many parents worry if COVID 19 will hold their child back from meeting goals. Most states waived their state standardized testing. I reached out to the IDEA School District but didn’t receive a response on how final grades will be factored. One thing is for sure, this school year will be one to remember.

Have you heard if you have a return to work date?

Melissa  “No return to work date. Basically May is summer as normal.”

Irma Valdez-Cevallos “So far May 4th-” 

JC  “Right now we are set to return early May, however, I am unsure if we will actually return at all.”

What tools or resources do you have for parents that are struggling?

Melissa “Knowledge on the go has Wit & Wisdom open resources, and Eureka Math. Prodigy math is an amazing online math/fantasy gaming platform. BrainPop! Is free right now!”

Irma Valdez-Cevallos   “Provides laptops and WiFi, breakfast and lunch for students, inform parents of the food bank at our district office for weekly pickup.”

JC “Stay in contact with your teacher – we are here to help.  I am providing lots of resources from Temple Grandin, Autism Educators, and other resources.  I am trying to set up a classroom and SpEd google meets – to where kids can converse with each other to give mom a break.”

Parents across the US are searching for resources to help their children. Many parents lack the educational background to know where to begin to properly help their child. These educators were kind enough to share some of their tools.

man with backpack beside a books

How can we as parents, help our children with special needs, stay on track per their IEPs?

Melissa  “Love and patience. Just remember that this is different for all of us and we are all “into the unknown” to quote Elsa.”

Irma Valdez-Cevallos “Understanding what the student is actually capable of accomplishing and  encouraging them  to increase to their full potential. Monitor them. Ask questions.”

JC  “Be aware of what your child’s goals are. See if you can find anything around the house to help build that awareness/skill/knowledge. Take pictures of their growth/them doing work.”

After going over their responses it was clear that this career is for the strong minded and dedicated. I’ve been told of the long and stressful hours left awake trying to help parents find resources that will help their child understand and master the lesson. Some are going as far as training the parents and then having a live video chat so they can support the child and the parents. Many expressed they are acting in place of social workers by finding food banks, free infant products and also buying supplies to help the student from their own pocket. I have had teachers on social media offer anyone help no matter what school the student goes to at no cost, knowing they already have so much on their plates.  

  These three women and countless others are not only educators but dedicated professionals and pillars of our community. When COVID 19 ceases to be nothing but history I hope we don’t soon forget how important our educators are to our future. I sincerely hope congress can find a way to better fund the schools and give these educators a well deserved salary raise to better support or future leaders of the world.

A special thank you to Melissa for helping me get the questionnaire to her colleagues, and to Irma , and JC for taking the time to answer all my questions. I appreciate their candid and informative answers. 

Have a story, experience, or recipe you want to share with our readers. Feel free to email me at throughlovewelearn@gmail.com

Congress.gov

https://www.congress.gov/bill/101st-congress/senate-bill/1824/actions?r=4587&s=9&KWICView=false

Actions Overview S.1824 — 101st Congress (1989-1990)

National Center for Education Statistics

https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_204.50.asp

Digest of Education Statistics table 204.50.

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